The rush to beat rising electricity prices and capitalise on falling rooftop solar costs has pushed Australia’s total installed small-scale renewable energy capacity to the 6GW (6,000 megawatt) mark, more than 5.9GW of which has come from PV panels installed on homes and businesses.
The Clean Energy Regulator, which released the data on Thursday, described it as a “remarkable milestone” that amounts to a collective generation capacity of around 11.2 million MWh of electricity a year. All those megawatt-hours displace fossil fuel capacity.
Led by Queensland, the so-called Sunshine State, Australian homes and businesses have installed almost 2.8 million small solar, wind, solar hot water or other renewable energy systems under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, the CER said.
The new milestone comes after a bumper July for rooftop solar, when 93MW was installed on Australian homes and businesses across the month, as markets in every state continue to deliver the nation’s best year to date, with a total of 568MW installed for the first half of 2017.
According to The Australia Institute’s latest monthly Electricity Update of the National Energy Emissions Audit for August, rooftop solar accounted for more than 3 per cent of Australia’s electricity consumption in July.
“More than one in five Australian households now have solar panels installed on their roof, and that’s the highest rate per capita in the world,” said CER executive general manager Mark Williamson.
“We’ve also recorded a trend in larger systems being installed over the past few years, with the average capacity of a system increasing by 12 per cent from 2015 to 2016.
“More households, schools, community groups and businesses are looking to install solar panel systems. On top of this, prices are reducing to allow families to afford bigger systems”, Williamson said.
Small-scale systems include capacity of up to 100 kilowatts, or about 20 times the size of the average household system.
The SRES provides incentives to households and businesses by issuing small-scale technology certificates for every megawatt-hour of renewable energy generated or displaced by an accredited solar panel, wind, hydro system, solar water heater or air source heat pump.
On top of this incentive, Australian households and businesses have access to some of the lowest solar system and installation prices around.
It is not all good news, however. The booming market has led to a sudden drop in small-scale renewable energy certificate (STC) prices – which, as we reported here in July, caught many PV installers off-guard and pushed up the cost of installing solar by around 10 per cent for households and small business.
And while this may not have too much of a dampening effect on installation rates, there is some concern it will increase pressure on solar installers, already feeling the pinch of wafer-thin profit margins ranging from around 17 per cent to 26 per cent.
Further concerns were raised by market analyst IHS last week, when it warned that the unexpected solar boom in China could undermine Australia’s surging solar sector, by causing a bottleneck in module supplies and price rises by the end of the year.